In sports and academics, UofL teams place at the top nationally and internationally.
So too, UofL is known for producing Fulbright scholars, a prestigious student exchange program funded by the U.S. Dept. of State.
While individual students get the recognition (this year’s recipient students will be announced in the next few weeks), it’s a team effort that gets them to the top.
But it wasn’t always so.
Before 2003, UofL had just two Fulbright scholars in its history. Now it has 48 and, in the past seven years, has produced more winners than all other Kentucky colleges combined—enough to rank it among the top-producing universities in the nation.
What happened is itself a team story dating back to 2000 when the university “reinvented the process,” said John Richardson, chemistry professor and director of UofL’s honors program.
“We knew our students were definitely capable of competing for prestigious scholarships and fellowships,” he said. “We just needed to create a better infrastructure.”
So in 2000, the university started an Overseers Scholars Development Program to identify high potential students and help them navigate the scholarship application process. Later that year, it hired Patricia Condon to direct the National and International Scholarship Opportunities Office.
Success begets success
The newly formed unit had its first big year in 2003 when three students earned Fulbright English teaching assistantships.
As awareness and interest in the scholarship program grew, Condon soon had a large pool of outstanding students from across campus who competed not only for the Fulbright, but also for such other highly regarded scholarships as the Boren, Rotary Ambassadorial and Critical Languages scholarships and the Boren Fellowship.
A defining moment came in 2009 when UofL graduate Monica Marks won a Rhodes Scholarship, the crème de la crème of academic awards. She was the first UofL graduate to win the honor in decades and its first female winner.
As more students receive awards, more students apply.
“Students see that a friend or acquaintance has won a prestigious scholarship and they recognize that they have a similar profile so they seek us out,” Condon said
“One of the best ambassadors for this office is 2010 graduate Robert Works, who won numerous scholarships. He was heavily involved with his fraternity Sigma Chi, student government, the McConnell Center and was even Mr. Cardinal. We continue to meet students who say they heard of our office because Robert told them about us.”
It takes a village
If Condon had to identify one main thing that has made the program successful, she would point to the network of enthusiastic supporters that include UofL President James Ramsey, Provost Shirley Willihnganz, faculty, staff, advisers and alumni.
Condon and Richardson keep that network active and engaged in several ways. For example, they both serve on in-house committees that make scholarship decisions for such awards as the Brown Fellows and the Jones, McConnell, Grawemeyer and Hallmark Scholars. Students who win these awards as incoming freshmen often are good candidates for national and international scholarships as juniors and seniors.
Faculty members play a big role, too.
“It is the intense and close relationship between the students and their faculty that leads to most of our referrals,” Condon said. “The faculty who serve on our scholarship review committees and those who write letters of recommendation for scholarship candidates are on the lookout year round for students whose futures would profit from the application process.”
Outside of the university, Condon and Richardson tap into professional development and networking resources from the National Association of Fellowship Advisors.
This year, Condon’s office will work with more than 90 students who have applied or are applying for some of the most significant scholarship awards in academia. And, that figure doesn’t include the scores of other students who are not yet ready to complete an application but come to her for advice as they chart their academic journey.
Helping students make that journey is gratifying work, Condon said.
“There is something extremely satisfying about helping a student who has never left Kentucky travel to Cairo or Moscow and return to UofL as a more mature and worldly young person.”